Back in Time is ED’s newspaper-like column that reports an incident from the past as though it has happened just yesterday. It allows the reader to re-live it several years later, on the date it had occurred.
18th October 2004: The famous encounter of the very infamous forest brigand Veerappan has finally taken place. ‘Koose Muniswamy Veerappan’- a dacoit, kidnapper, poacher and sandalwood smuggler who kept the police officials on their toes but never got in their hands for about 20 years- is now dead.
Tamil Nadu STF chief, Additional Director General of Police, K. Vijay Kumar, said `Operation Cocoon’ was the result of 10 months of planning and three weeks of meticulous preparation. But the operation lasted only 45 minutes from the time the gang got into the ambulance, which was actually an STF vehicle.
Veerappan had immense knowledge of the western ghats and the forest area he covered. This had made it even more difficult for the police officials to catch hold of him, because he knew the territory way too much and way too well. The only option was to bring ‘him’ out of the forest area.
The operation was the result of intelligence inputs the STF had got over a period, Mr. Vijay Kumar said. It had managed to plant four men in the Veerappan gang. They had settled in the villages on the fringes of the forest and won the confidence of the gang. Other STF men posed as taxi drivers, bus conductors, hawkers and masons and provided information crucial to the operation.
Intelligence inputs indicated that the brigand, who had an eye ailment, was trying to establish contact with persons in other districts, possibly for medical assistance and to add to his manpower.
These districts form a belt of Tamil extremism. There were reports suggesting that the brigand was in a mood to leave the jungles to escape from the police net, an official added.
Mr. Vijay Kumar said, “the absence of red-tapism and miscommunication” proved to be an advantage for the STF. “One aim, one goal and one mission of both the STFs led to the accomplishment of the task.”
“We have searched and hunted for Veerappan for the last 20 years. But his end was all over in 20 minutes. We wish we could catch him alive and bring him to justice. But we are happy that our efforts have finally succeeded”
~ Vijaya Kumar, Head of Special Task Force.
After monitoring the movement of the brigand, the entire manpower was deployed in the area, thus “bringing the elusive fugitive into a tightly knit police net,” he said.
As per police report, Veerappan and his gang were first warned and then asked to surrender, which was refused and the gang started firing at the STF personnel. The STF retaliated by firing grenades and gunfire. Veerappan was killed on the spot, while his gangmen died in the ambulance taking them to the government hospital. After the operation, the STF recovered 12 bore Remington pump action gun, two AK-47, a self-loading rifle, two hand grenades and cash worth ₹3.5 lakhs.
Veerappan or Sandalwood Veerappan was one of the biggest dacoits India has ever seen. He defied the state governments of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala for years and also maintained a small army.
He first came in the news when he killed a forest officer as he was against his illegal trade. He had even kidnapped Rajkumar, a very famous and much-beloved Kannada actor back then. His last big crime included the abduction of a retired minister of Karnataka, Nagappa who was later found dead.
His craftiness and cruelty were feared not only in villages but also in the big cities. He was a rebel in his own way, he created his empire and a small army with only a handful of stolen guns.
Veerappan was wanted for abductions, poaching, smuggling and killing approximately 184 people. Yet he remained free from the hands of the state and the police for about 20 years.
As dangerous as this sounds, imagine how difficult it has been for the police to finally capture and kill him.
Operation Cocoon, the joint Special Task Force operation of Veerappan is one of the costliest in Indian history.
With his death, unavoidable but uncomfortable questions about links between politicians as well as Tamil extremist groups with Veerappan remained largely unanswered. However, it is also important to resist the feelings which had become prevalent in certain quarters of considering him as a ‘Robin-hood’ and a rebel with a cause. He clearly wasn’t bringing any merriness by the actions he had brought.
It is sad that the system of this country gives predators great opportunities and Veerappan seized them like Capone in order to emerge as a political leader and a totally free man. Hopefully, we shouldn’t be waiting for more Veerappans to seize these opportunities.
Image Credits: Google Images
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